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'West worried by Syrian chemical site activity'
By REUTERS AND JPOST.COM STAFF
12/02/2012
As Syrian jets bomb rebel-held areas, SNC may allow force to monitor country if Assad leaves; CNN reports 73 dead.
 
Western intelligence officials have noticed new worrying signs of activity at chemical weapons sites in Syria, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The Syrian regime is "doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons," one American intelligence official told the Times, adding, "It's not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities."

The officials were unsure of Syria's intentions regarding the work at the chemical sites, but said it is possible Damascus is preparing to use chemical weapons as a last-ditched effort to defeat rebels, according to the report.

But the Syrians have yet to take the most crucial steps toward using their chemical weapons, or preparing them for firing in any way, the Times reported.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would weigh military action if it suspects Syria's chemical weapons could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization.

“We will do everything that is needed” to ensure Syria’s WMD stockpiles are not transferred, Netanyahu said at a meeting with EU ambassadors stationed in Israel in October.

Jets bomb Damascus, rebels open to peacekeepers

Syrian jets bombed rebel-held areas of Damascus on Saturday, residents said, as the opposition indicated it could accept an international peacekeeping force if President Bashar Assad is forced from power.



At least 73 people were killed Saturday across Syria, including 23 in Damascus, and 20 more in Aleppo, CNN quoted the Syrian opposition and activists as saying.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least eight people died when a car bomb exploded in the northern city of Reqqah, CNN reported.

Warplanes attacked the Damascus suburbs of Kafar Souseh and Darraya, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked group. The air strikes follow intensified rebel activity in the capital, Assad's seat of power, as well as stormings of government military bases in recent weeks.

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"Syrian regular forces are trying to control the areas surrounding the capital," the Observatory said. Bombings targeted a continuous arc of rebel presence in the capital's outer districts from the northeast to the southwest.

Opposition activists reported clashes and air strikes in the provinces of Homs, Deir al-Zor, Idlib and in Aleppo, where they said 14 rebel fighters were killed during an assault on an army base in the town of Khanasser early on Saturday.

It is difficult to verify such reports due to government restrictions on media access to Syria.

Syria's Internet connections began working again on Saturday after a two-day blackout, the worst communications outage in the 20-month-old uprising against Assad in which 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country.

Opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition might allow an international peacekeeping force into Syria if Assad and his allies leave power, coalition spokesman Walid al-Bunni said on Saturday.

Some opposition members have argued against international troops, saying their arrival could serve as a rallying call for Assad loyalists in an area near the Mediterranean where many of his minority Alawite sect live.

Assad, whose family has ruled autocratically for four decades, draws much of his support from the sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Most of the rebels are Sunni Muslims.

Bunni said the coalition was open to any proposal if Assad and his allies, including top officers in the military and security apparatus, were removed.

"If this is the first condition then we can start discussing everything. There will be no political process until the ruling family and all those who underpin the regime leave," he said.

Bunni, a physician who spent most of the period after Assad inherited power from his father in 2000 in jail as a political prisoner, was speaking at a news conference marking the conclusion of the first full meeting of the opposition coalition in Cairo.

Airport reopens, Internet returns

Syrian state television quoted an information ministry statement saying Damascus international airport was open on Saturday and that the road leading to it was safe.

Since Thursday, clashes have been reported near the Aqraba and Babilla districts on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus which lead to the airport, effectively closing the road and leading EgyptAir and Emirates to suspend flights.

US web tracking firm Renesys said in a blog post that it could confirm "a largely complete restoration of the Syrian Internet".

Rights groups said the communications blackout was a precursor to a wider offensive by government forces in the capital. Syrian security sources and diplomats say the government intends to seal off central Damascus from the restive suburbs.

Authorities had attributed the Internet outage to a "terrorist" attack or a technical fault. On Saturday, state news agency SANA gave a third reason for the outage: "Maintenance work." Residents contacted by Reuters in the capital, the central city of Homs, and northern Aleppo said they had connectivity.
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